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Movie Review: <em>Love Guru</em>, <em>Get Smart</em>


Two movie comedies open today and each of them depends on a popular comedian. "The Love Guru" has Mike Myers of the "Austin Powers" movies; "Get Smart" has Steve Carell of TV's "The Office." Both stars honed their skills in sketch comedy.

But our critic, Bob Mondello, says they're now working in a very different style.

BOB MONDELLO: A tale of two comics. It was the best of films. It was the worst of films. Well, "Get Smart" isn't quite the best of films. But "Love Guru" is definitely the worst - a far, far grosser thing than Mike Myers has ever done; vulgar, unfunny, dirtier-minded than its PG-13 rating suggests. It's the story of a very needy guru played by a very needy Myers who's hired to motivate the Toronto Maple Leafs. His methods include lewd self-help mantras, elephant erotica and an endless supply of jokes about male endowment.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Love Guru")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Damn, damn, damn.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Looks like he's smuggling a schnauzer.

MONDELLO: Pretty much a single entendre, no? Hockey is apparently one of Mike Myers's passions. Deepak Chopra is another, and on the evidence presented in "The Love Guru," a third is bodily functions.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Love Guru")

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) Are you finished?

(Soundbite of burping and flatulence)

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actor): (As character) No. Now I'm finish.

MONDELLO: The charitable way of characterizing this sort of humor, besides noting its appeal to third graders, is to say that it descends from burlesque, descends rather a lot in this case. Myers grew up in Canada, where the British music hall tradition holds sway. Think Benny Hill. But nothing can quite prepare you for a whole movie filled with spiritualism filtered through that sensibility.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Love Guru")

Mr. MIKE MYERS (Actor): (As Guru Pitka) Fate is joke. And as I once read on a wall in a truck stop bathroom, the joke is in your hands.

MONDELLO: Myers surrounds himself with perfectly able second bananas - Justin Timberlake, Stephen Colbert, Ben Kingsley and Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer - but none of them, not one, not for a moment can find a way to be funny when the star is around.

"Get Smart" is descended not from burlesque, but from its family friendly cousin vaudeville. The original TV show was the brainchild of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And when they conceived the bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, sort of a cross between the Inspector Clouseau and James Bond, they gave him the rhythms of a Borscht Belt comic. While Steve Carell isn't really a stand up guy, he's got those rhythms.

(Soundbite of movie, "Get Smart")

Unidentified Man #2: How do I know you're not CONTROL?

Mr. STEVE CARELL (Actor): (As Maxwell Smart) If I were CONTROL, you'd already be dead.

Unidentified Man #2: If you were CONTROL, you'd already be dead.

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) Well, neither of us is dead so I'm obviously not from CONTROL. Eventually makes sense.

MONDELLO: Carell is what you might call a smarter Maxwell Smart. He brings both brains and heart to the character's ineptitude. So it's easy to see why Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 might grow fond of him. The film isn't as wise-cracky as the 60s series, but it's decent fun when Max is misconstruing or being misconstrued. When he tries to get an elderly Russian baker to tell him where she's hiding some nuclear material, for instance, he's just doing his job, not cracking jokes.

(Soundbite of movie, "Get Smart")

Ms. JANE GILCHRIST (Actress): (As Bakery Counter Woman) (Unintelligible)

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) No, thank you. I am here for something else.

Ms. GILCHRIST: (As Bakery Counter Woman) Bread?

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) Something hot.

Ms. GILCHRIST: (As Bakery Counter Woman) We have rolls that just came out.

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) Even hotter, much, much hotter.

Ms. GILCHRIST: (As Bakery Counter Woman) I already have boyfriend.

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) Alright.

Ms. GILCHRIST: (As Bakery Counter Woman) Although I could make exception.

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) No, that's...

Ms. GILCHRIST: (As Bakery Counter Woman) Sure?

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) Okay.

Ms. GILCHRIST: (As Bakery Counter Woman) Flour sacks in back very comfortable.

Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) I don't think we are on the same page.

MONDELLO: That exchange, you'll note is all about sex without being smutty. Considering that both "The Love Guru" and "Get Smart" have roots in the East-West divides of the 1960s and also have stars who were born during that decade, it's interesting that they're conceived and played so differently. "The Love Guru's" plot about Western fascination with Eastern spiritualism is barely even a clothesline to hang jokes on.

"Get Smart's" spoofing of 007 movies is a fully-formed spy flick. And Mike Myers wears his guru character much as he would a suit of clothes, winking at the camera to let you know that he's in there. Steve Carell doesn't wink at the camera. He stares it down. And he doesn't wear Maxwell Smart; he inhabits him - or maybe just turns him into Steve Carell.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.